Once popular artist John Byrne has dived into controversy despite his statement that he wished to avoid this topic.
The topic being transgender people, specifically Caitlyn Jenner. To quote Bryne verbatim:
“I consider myself a pretty worldly guy. Not much surprises me. But I just read that “Caitlyn” is foregoing the, ah, unkindest cut of all. (She’s keeping his penis.) So… ‘splain this one to me. How does this make “her” something other/more than a man in drag?
Seriously! Enquiring minds want to know!” – Comment from page 1
Seriously, Mr Byrne, if you wanted to know you easily could have done research on the topic, and read stories of trans people and their very personal journeys of self discovery which are often long, difficult, fearful, and emotionally fraught. In reading such stories you might have learned what you claim you wanted to know by posting to your forum members. You might have taken the initiative to meet trans people in person if you could mind your manners long enough though that remains in question, and honestly, many trans people understandably can become tired of dealing with ignorance and spite of the cisgender world at large. Thankfully, a few of those folks commenting on Byrne’s forum, writer Marc Guggenheim stands out as one, have the decency and understanding to treat and accept trans people as honest to goodness human beings equally deserving of the same dignity and respect as every person should be.
Byrne makes several mistakes with his initial comment. First, he uses quotes around Caitlyn’s name. This practice diminishes and demeans a person, whether they are cis or trans, though certainly more when a trans person is involved. If you don’t understand why it’s the case then I suggest you try it on someone you know or have someone do it to you, and more than once. Second, in using the phrase “unkindest cut of all” in this context, Byrne seems, as I interpret it, to assume that having a penis is the niftiest, greatest thing there is. Byrne segues into insulting Jenner (and trans people in general) by misgendering Caitlyn based on reproductive genitalia. Byrne then continues his ignorance by confusing and or conflating drag (it’s unclear whether he means drag queens or cross dressing men who are most often straight) with a transgender person living life and presenting as the gender they know themselves to be. After all, that is a part of the transition for a trans person.
“How does one “live as a woman”? I was discussing this with one of my gal pals and she took offense at the concept. “Is he bad at math and driving?” she asked.” – Comment from page 3
Byrne’s friend seems to be stuck with stereotypically negative ideas of being a woman, and not helpful at all to Byrne if he really does want to know.
“Here’s a question: if one is, for instance, a “woman trapped in the body of a man,” how would one know? Not having at any time been a woman, what is the frame of reference?” – Comment also from page 3
This question is being asked squarely from an ignorant, cisgender point of view. Byrne hasn’t experienced the feeling of gender dysphoria himself, therefore he seems to reason that it can’t really exist for others or he can’t fathom how it could exist. An experiential understanding from a cisgender person is both impossible and not required to validate a trans person’s gender dysphoria. Byrne’s question isn’t very different from a straight person questioning a gay or lesbian how they know their sexuality, especially if a person has never had sex with someone who isn’t the same sex. I can’t count the number of times total (straight) strangers have told me in very direct terms that I couldn’t possibly have known I was gay at age five. It had to be some delusion, some mental condition, sexual abuse from an older male, or straight up demon possession that’s the cause.
“And, let’s be really hard hearted about this for a moment: a penis is not a roll of flesh stitched together by a doctor, and a vagina is not an open wound that is prevented from healing.
As I think I have made clear many times, my whole “philosophy” comes down to Consenting Adults. Let people be and do whatever they want, as long as nobody gets hurt. But the sideshow surrounding Jenner, and some of the choices he seems to be making — this is bread and circuses.” – Comment also on page 3
Byrne seems to want things two ways here. The sideshow and bread & circuses wording are judgmental and remind me of comments from evangelical Christians who claim they don’t have problems with LGBT people (which is almost always gay men in their minds) as long as they keep their lives private and “don’t shove it down our throats”. Simply speaking up for ourselves is often interpreted as threatening and challenging to straight social norms. The world does not operate on your terms, Mr Byrne. If one trans person can look to Jenner for hope and not harm or kill themselves then her to date very public transition seems worth it to me. It’s also the same attitude that Jenner has done all this to get attention and take the spotlight away from Kardashian money train wreck; an attitude which is completely ignorant of the fact that trans people typically are evaluated by professionals. Again, Byrne seems fixated on genitals and a specific definition of how he perceives them. Nor does he have the slightest understanding of how a surgeon would create a vagina for a trans woman if she chose such surgery.
“No question that men and women have different brains! Physically, a woman has more in common with another woman, and a man with another man, than the sexes do with each other.
But we’re not talking about men and women, here, really. We’re talking about something… else. Something that is both, and neither. And that’s where it gets tricky.” – Comment from page 4
Sigh. This is where Byrne becomes even worse and he doubles-down with the following.
“A REALLY hard question, then: Many people are tortured and driven by a desire to have sex with children. Our society frowns on this, and such people are considered mentally ill. We do not accommodate them, we do not respect them.
How is being “transgender” different? Given all the twists and turns that have happened in our general understanding of how the brain and mind work — still a work in progress — how difficult is it to imagine a future in which it will be determined without doubt that “transgender” is, indeed, a mental illness? How will we feel about all those people who, instead of actually helping them, we encouraged in a program of self-mutilation?
This is a long, long road, and so far we have taken barely a single step upon it. (Christine Jorgenson was half a century ago. How much has changed?) ” – Comment also from page 4
I have to give Byrne credit for knowing about Christine Jorgensen, but that’s all he gets credit for. Quite a lot has changed with regards to trans people in the last five decades though much of what remains unchanged today is ignorance and hate toward them. Just Google “transgender bathroom bills” and prepare yourself for buckets of bile. Those attitudes are evidenced here with Byrne bringing pedophiles into this series of questions turned auto da fe of rhetorical jackassery. The issue of pedophilia is frequently brought up with regards to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, most often in my experience by conservatives who oppose marriage equality. Try pointing out that the majority of pedophiles are straight and you’ll witness how they can be quite adept at using circular logic to double down. I know the psychological and emotional anguish I felt and the intense self questioning I had for about 14 years as I came to understand myself all dealt with a fear of rejection by family, friends, and society in general. Even so, I decided on my own to see a therapist, who told me in our first meeting that I was as normal as any other teenager, and that was the end of that. The anguish and questioning a transgender person goes through is just as or more intense. Any mental illness affecting the lives of trans people comes from oppressive factors in hetero-normative society at large. To answer Byrne’s question of how difficult imagining a future in which transgender people are unequivocally determined to be mentally ill is can be answered by looking at the treatment of and attitudes towards transgender people throughout history. Trans people are not a recent phenomenon. His clinically sterile words belie a moral gatekeeper attitude. It’s a shame Byrne can’t understand that trans people aren’t mentally ill. Let’s hope the compassionate, empathetic members of his forum succeed in helping him understand.
Byrne’s last post as of the time of this posting is a paraphrase of an Oscar Wilde quote: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” This is certainly an instance when it would be better not to be talked about, Mr Byrne, and you most certainly are a topic of conversation.